The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to develop a strategy for advancing defence cooperation between the United States and India.
The a $621.5 billion defence policy bill, moved by Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera, was adopted by a voice vote by the House as part of the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2018, beginning October 1 this year.
NDAA-2018 was passed by the House 344-81.
"The United States is the world's oldest democracy and India is the world's largest democracy. It is vitally important to develop a strategy that advances defence cooperation between our two nations," Bera said.
"I am grateful for this amendment passed and look forward to the Defence Department's strategy that addresses critical issues like common security challenges, the role of partners and allies, and areas for collaboration in science and technology," he said.
"Cooperation between the US and India enhances our own defence and our ability to meet the evolving security challenges of the 21st century," Bera added.
Following the passage of the National Defence Authorisation Act, the Secretary of Defence and Secretary of State have 180 days to develop a strategy for advancing defence cooperation+ between the two countries.
NDAA needs to be passed by the Senate before it can be sent to the White House for the US President Donald Trump to sign into law.
As passed by the House, NDAA-2018 asks the State Department and the Pentagon to develop a strategy that addresses common security challenges, the role of American partners and allies in India-US defence relationship, and role of the defence technology and trade initiative.
It also asks them to address how to advance the communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement and the basic exchange and cooperation agreement for geospatial cooperation.
The previous NDAA-2017 had designated India as a major defence partner which brings India at par with closest American partners in terms of defence trade and technology transfer.
Meanwhile, a senior defence official on Friday said that India and US defence relationship is on positive track.
"... [As] we look at the global order, and when we look at the evolving security environment within Asia, India's rise and role [is] evolving, [and] we see the United States and India increasingly viewing the region in the same way, and our interests are very much aligned," said Cara Abercrombie, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia.
Addressing a New York audience, she said the relationship creates a high level of dialogue in the Pentagon on a range of issues.
"This is all rooted in when we look at the region and [what] we share. We have the same [aerial] security interests, the same counter-proliferation, counter-piracy, and counter- terrorism [interests]," she added.
"We have the same interests in upholding this international system that upholds the rule of law that favours freedom of navigation, open sea lanes of communication, and freedom of over flight.
Those are values that are critically important to our economic prosperity and to our access in the region," Abercrombie said during a panel discussion at the 2017 Global Business Forum in New York City.
US House imposes conditions for defence funding to Pakistan
The US House of Representatives has also voted for three legislative amendments to impose tougher conditions for reimbursement of defence funding to Pakistan, adding a caveat that Islamabad should make satisfactory progress in the fight against terrorism.
The conditions are related to Pakistan’s support to terrorists and terror outfits, about which several top US officials and lawmakers have repeatedly expressed concern about in the past.
All the three legislative amendments to the USD 651 billion National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2018 were adopted by a voice vote by the lower house of the Congress yesterday.
NDAA-2018, which authorises the annual defence expenses for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2017 was adopted by the House 344-81.
The bill, as passed by the House requires the Secretary of Defence to certify, prior to making any reimbursement to Pakistan, that Islamabad is maintaining security along the Ground Lines of Communication through Pakistan, taking demonstrable steps to support counterterrorism operations, disrupting cross border attacks, and countering the threat of improvised explosive devices.
It also specifies that of the total amount of reimbursement and support authorised for Pakistan during the period beginning on October 1, 2017, and ending on December 31, 2018- USD 400 million- would not be eligible for a national security waiver unless the Secretary of Defence certifies that Pakistan continues to conduct military operations against the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan.
The Defence Secretary also needs to certify that Pakistan is demonstrating commitment to preventing the Haqqani network from using North Waziristan as a safe haven, and is actively coordinating with the Government of Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants, including the Haqqani Network, along the Pak-Afghan border.
Two of these amendments were moved by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and one by Ted Poe.
“Today, Congress took a step forward to end Pakistan’s betrayal of the US with the addition of an additional certification requirement,” said Poe, a Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman of Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation & Trade.
One of Poe’s amendments, as passed by the House proposes to withhold reimbursement funding for Pakistan unless the Secretary of Defence can certify that Pakistan is not providing military, financial, or logistical support to any individuals designated by the US as a terrorist operating in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
NDAA, as passed by the House, now requires that the Pentagon assess Pakistan’s support for known terrorists before handing over US dollars to Islamabad, Poe said.
“Making excess military equipment available to federal, state, and law enforcement agencies along our southern border will provide much-needed support and reinforcements to the men and women who are our first line of defence,” he said.
“It is well known that Pakistan is a Benedict Arnold ally who supports multiple terrorist organisations, including groups that target Americans working to stabilise Afghanistan.
“But current limitations on military reimbursement funding to Pakistan only apply to one terrorist group: the Haqqani Network,” Poe said in a statement.
The legislative amendment moved by Rohrabacher adds a stipulation requiring that, prior to the disbursement of certain funds, the Secretary of Defence certify to Congress that Pakistan is not using its military or any funds or equipment provided by the US to persecute minority groups seeking political or religious freedom.
Another Rohrabacher amendment expresses a sense of Congress that Shakil Afridi is an international hero and that the Government of Pakistan should release him immediately from prison.
“Dr Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani physician, is a hero to whom the people of the United States, Pakistan and the world owe a debt of gratitude for his help in finally locating Osama bin Laden before 10 more innocent American, Pakistani and other lives were lost to this terrorist leader,” the amendment said.
Pakistan’s imprisonment of Afridi presents a serious and growing impediment to the United States’ bilateral relations with Pakistan, said the amendment as passed by the House of Representatives.
(With PTI inputs)